7/9/11 - 7/15/11
After dominating the Goa party, the concensus in the group was that a beach needed to be found. We had been running around like chickens with our heads cut off, although perhaps slightly more chaotically. Every day was another bus or two, sleep wasn't really happening, and we just wanted to relax. Fortunately, as with most countries I've been this trip, Albania is privy to some glorious beaches. Unfortunately, we would need to take what seemed like 37 buses to reach them. But we had to grin and bare it, as salvation from our zombie like state was within our grasp.
We were planning on going to Shkolla, which had an old schoolhouse that had been converted into a hostel. It was supposed to be one of the best hostels in the country, and we were ready to check it out. I should have known we would not actually end the day there. My plans in Albania were getting consistently hacked to threads by more enticing endeavors, and this day would be no different.
As our bus fruitlessly attempted to go the wrong way up a seemingly one way street, we had all the time in the world to chat with our neighbors on the crowded bus. The assistant bus driver was standing in the middle of the road attempting to urge the oncoming, gridlocked traffic to move over as far as possible so that we could gingerly slip past. On the stairs along the midsection of the bus lay a gypsy woman in a seemingly comatose state, and two dutch fellows trying to make sure that she didn't emit any sort of bodily expulsion onto their shoes. The Dutch fellows, named Maarten and Ruben, were heading to a beach town called Dhermi where isolated beaches and camping awaited them at a place called Sea Turtle Beach. They had heard of the hostel we were trying to reach, and informed us it was about a 45 minute walk from there to the beach. The bus would ramble on, up and down the beautiful rolling cliffsides of southern Albania, and eventually stop in Dhermi, the location of the Sea Turtle camp grounds. Our original group of six frantically rambled about whether or not we should get off the bus. A group discussion later, where everyone was talking but no one was really listening to anyone, we were on the pavement with the Dutch, our bus continuing on to our original endpoint.
View out of the midsection door of the bus. This was kept open the whole ride, acting as the air conditioning that the bus advertised, and providing some stunning views
As with most of the knee jerk decisions I've made this trip, it turned out to be an incredible choice. After getting to the campsite and dropping our bulky bags onto the grass, we all sprinted towards the water, shedding off any unnecessary clothing during the process. We all bobbed in the salty water, collectively breathing a sigh of relief. As the sweat and dirt from the last few days washed away, as did any unnecessary stress or fatigue that had built up along with it. With permanent smiles on everyones faces, staring back at the mountains that cupped the horizon, Clara looked over at me, and laughingly declared "Albania?!?"
Not only was the beach stunning, but the campsite was dirt cheap. For a pittance of 7 Euro a night (~$10), I received a campsite, my own tent, breakfast, and dinner. Score. Contrast that with most places in Europe, where 7 euro will barely get you lunch. You could easily live here for $15 a day, proof positive by the people who had been there for several months already. We would get a much needed break from the Albanian travel whirlwind here, the daily billing involving not much beyond lying on the beach. Our biggest endeavor would come during the late evening, and consisted of collecting wood for the impending beach bonfire. (Big thanks to Marco for some of the pics)
Like all beaches in the Balkans, this was a rock beach as opposed to a sandy beach. In the beginning it can be slightly off-putting, but by the end they are actually great. Climbing out of the pristine salty water and lying on sun baked rocks is spa-esque.
Can you find the hidden person in this picture?
Here's a hint
We showed her this picture while she was still covered and she started laughing. Upon which the rock on her top lip fell into her mouth and she swallowed it. The whereabouts of said rock are still unknown.
Bonfire on the beach. 'Nuff said
Eventually, unfortunately, we would need to leave the Turtle Beach campsite. Not because we wanted to, but because sometimes the show must go on. I always know a place is great when I don't want to leave. Of course, with the nature of my trip I could choose to stay wherever I want for a month, and such a decision would be great fun. However the opportunity cost of that choice is stark, as the world is a pretty big place, and there is some pretty sweet stuff out there.
We said goodbye to the beach, as well to Scotty and Marco, and we headed off to our initial goal, the converted school house.
The schoolhouse was probably one of the coolest hostels I've stayed at the entire trip. It may not have had the feature comforts of many, but it was oozing with character. It was like having a slumber party in your third grade classroom. That is, of course, if your third grade classroom was on a giant hillside overlooking the Adriatic sea.
"G" is for, um, yeah.
Life was simple at the schoolhouse. If you needed something complicated like an ATM a 30 minute ride "into town" was necessary, otherwise you subsided on what you bought at the local market, and entertained oneself with the likes of hammocks, books, nature treks, and family dinner time. (Thanks to Dorina and Gridi for some of the pics)
Swinging the day away
The aftermath. JK.
Kind of creepy, I know. But this was the best lay down spot ever. So refreshing after trekking along the river for a mile or two.
And of course, bonfire.
I think Clara put it best when she exclaimed, "Albania?!?" Almost every day I was surprised by how incredible the country was. From sitting on top of a pyramid and drinking beers with the locals, to getting lost in beautiful hillsides, to pristine beaches, to serene nature hikes, Albania has it going on. You have to pinch yourself as a reminder that you aren't in a country with a well beaten tourist trail. You may need to work a little harder for the payoff, however the rewards are some of the most fulfilling I've had on this entire trip. Albania won't remain undiscovered for much longer with all that it has to offer, and I feel very fortunate to have experienced it before heaps of Lonely Planet toting tourists come flocking in. If you are in this part of the world, go to Albania. Drink with the locals, get lost somewhere, don't take anything too seriously, and bring a tent. Oh, and be careful with your passport at the border.
Wow, what an incredible place. But as my birthday approached, I wanted to travel somewhere a bit livelier. Be careful what you wish for, next stop, Montenegro.